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Massive search continues at Camp Blanding for missing soldier

Police line tape (Dreamstime/TNS)
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A massive air and ground search is continuing on and above more than 1,000 acres of Camp Blanding’s woods and swamp for National Guard soldier Cayln McLemore, missing since Wednesday morning while partaking in a routine training class at the base near Starke.

Roughly 450 military, police and civilian searchers on foot, horseback, helicopter and other vehicles are covering the area coordinated by the Clay County Sheriff’s Office to find the Alabama Army Reserve soldier.

McLemore was taking part in a land navigation training class and did not return as scheduled at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Keith Smith said. He was equipped with full uniform, a navigation tool, a map and some basic food and water. Searchers have found some of his cast-off gear, like paperwork and a tool used to find navigation points, and are concentrating on a 1,000-acre area near there as well as elsewhere in the huge 70,000-acre camp.

“The conditions are very tough these last few days, especially the conditions right now,” Smith said. “We are still remaining positive and hoping we can locate him and that he will just need some medical attention. He’s a squared-away soldier, a hard-charger who just wanted to go out there and complete the course. He probably pushed it to the limits in this extreme heat, so again we are just going to remain positive.”

Camp Blanding Joint Training Center is the primary military reservation and training base for the Florida National Guard’s Army and Air National Guard divisions. Located about 10 miles east of Starke, it was opened in the 1940s as an active-duty military training center. McLemore was with about 70 other soldiers on a course designed to test their navigation skills through heavy vegetation. Participants are given a map, compass, protractor, pencil and coordinates, according to National Guard information about land navigation courses.

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Smith said the soldiers work the course individually, although they may come across each other as they navigate the grid. The terrain can be grueling, he said.

“And with all the rain that we have had, and it’s a kind of swampy area anyway … waist-high to chest-high swamp, mud and water,” Smith said. “… It’s taken [our searchers] a lot to get through there and we have to make sure we keep our guys hydrated. It is a meticulous and methodical search.”

The Sheriff’s Office said “there’s nothing that gives us any indication” that McLemore might have just run away, nor that any foul play has occurred. It is still believed the Alabama soldier got off course and may be wounded somewhere. They are also concerned about some of the wildlife he might encounter, said Smith, who has trained at the camp himself.

Search and rescue teams on horseback and all-terrain vehicles are part of the efforts, using canines and other larger rescue vehicles. Helicopters from the Jacksonville and St. Johns County sheriff’s offices along with U.S. Customs are flying search grids, while volunteer groups are out “anywhere and everywhere and we will keep them coming,” Smith said.

A Clay County sergeant is working with McLemore’s mother in Louisiana to keep her updated on search efforts, Smith said.

Staff from sheriff’s offices in Putnam, Baker and Marion counties, plus emergency management from Clay and Pasco counties, St. Johns County Sheriff’s Urban Search and Rescue Team and other state and local groups have joined the effort.

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© 2018 The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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